Queerness, Bi Invisibility, and the Power of Labels

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Photo by Marta Branco

The author, Courtney Loechl, is a Make Shit Happen coach, hostel management consultant, and avid world traveler. With a focus on consistent, tangible steps paired with the right mindset, she guides her clients to transform overwhelm into action in order to grow their businesses and achieve major life goals.

After years of living around the world—teaching English to child monks in Thailand, guiding whitewater rafting in Swaziland, hitchhiking through New Zealand, managing a hostel in San Francisco, and much more—she made it her mission to help others follow their dreams instead of just talk about it. Courtney lives with her wife Candice in a ’79 Dodge camper van they renovated into their tiny home, with plans to convert a full-size school bus into a mobile hostel called The Wanderbus.

A few weeks ago I posted a Facebook status about watching the (original) L Word for the first time. In addition to loving it, I mentioned how “as a non-lesbian girl married to another non-lesbian girl, and as someone who has always hung around gay males and immersed myself in gay male culture…it’s kind of fascinating.”

And then the confusion started in the comments.

“Wait…two non-lesbian girls married…how does that work?”

“Yeah, I’d love to know too!”

“Have you shared this part of your story before?”

I had, in fact, but I also never turn down an opportunity to educate. So I wrote another post explaining myself. Not because I felt judged or out of obligation but because gender and orientation CAN be confusing, and why not help others understand just a little bit better?

I identify as pansexual—similar to bisexual but without the assumed gender binary of male or female. Pan comes from the Greek word meaning “all” and is more inclusive to those who may not necessarily fall on the gender binary. That said, many bisexual people are also open beyond the binary and simply use the “bi” label out of preference. 

My wife, Candice, generally identifies as bisexual or fluid but overall doesn’t really choose a label. We’ve both had relationships with men before our relationship. Which, of course, is something that people in our lives before we met know. But to people meeting us now, we are often assumed to be “lesbian” simply because we are two married women.

That’s not a big deal (as in, we aren’t offended by this), but it’s also not an identity/label either of us actually identifies with. So it’s kinda like *shrug*. And personally, there is so much about typical lesbian culture I’m clueless about. 

To add to the Queer Culture 101 lesson, there’s actually a very real issue with bi invisibility. This isn’t a huge issue for me like it can be for others, but it should be discussed. Bisexual invisibility is the idea that a bi person in a hetero relationship is considered straight or a bi person in a same-sex relationship is considered gay/lesbian, when actually they are still bi no matter who they are dating. But because it’s not obvious, their actual identity is missed.

The best way I can explain it is that in the same way that a straight girl dating a straight guy can still be attracted to other guys, I am still attracted to other people—of all genders—even though I’m in a relationship. Or as one person so succinctly put it when they shared my post, “Relationship status does not indicate orientation.” When I watch movies with my wife, we’re both gushing over the lead actress AND actor. My bi (pan) identity doesn’t disappear just because I’m with a certain person.

I remember my first Pride after coming out and switching from being an ally to suddenly being a part of the community. It was exciting but also felt like “So…do I wave half a flag now? How does this work?” It’s been uncomfortable at times, particularly before I met Candice. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I fit into the community better because of being with her. But being pan doesn’t make me (or anyone else) any “less” queer (a reclaimed and commonly used umbrella term for those in the LGBTQ community), no matter who they are dating—or whether they’re dating no one at all. 

I completely understand why people make assumptions based on relationships, especially if it’s not something they’re familiar with. As one person commented when I first shared this, “The unknown makes people uncomfortable, ‘figuring me out’ makes it easier.” I of all people should know better, and still, I’ve caught myself multiple times. Hey, we’re all human. So this is simply an opportunity to shine a light on something that can be really confusing.

I know there will be people reading this who may think something to the effect of “Why labels at all? Who cares? Just be you!”

Yes. Absolutely be you and don’t be boxed in! However, in my experience both personally and within the community, labels taken by choice (vs. thrust upon in judgment or assumption) can have immense power. Often when people struggle with being “other” in some form, having a label can help them feel less lost. Especially when that label brings a connection to a community.

Labels cannot encompass all that we are. And at times, labels can be divisive. However, they can also be empowering when personally chosen, especially when someone is not a part of the majority and is seeking community and acceptance. We are getting closer to labels disappearing—or at least mattering less—but until then (or even then) there is nothing wrong with having pride in your identity that has been deemed lesser than by others.

However you identify and whatever label you choose, I hope this has helped you in some small way.

Finally, I originally wrote this piece on a whim on my own social media. I had no idea the amount of people it would resonate with—or help. It was shared over 50 times with hundreds of positive and grateful comments from all sides.

If you have a message, share it. If you have a platform, use it.

So often you will never know the impact you are having on others by just being you, unapologetically. Remember that when you think, “It doesn’t matter,” or “No one is watching, so why bother.”

It matters. I promise. 

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Stevie Rose is a witch, writer, and lifestyle faerie located in the heart of Los Angeles. She came upon the concept of Self Love Magic during a Virgo moon when her creativity just could not rest! Stevie has experience working as a business consultant for technology companies, plus as a marketing strategist for authors, musicians, and agencies in Hollywood. When she isn't working on Self Love Magic, she is practicing it or writing and workshopping her novel with the help of award-winning author (and her personal guru) Francesca Lia Block. She can also be found inside a hula hoop, practicing acrobatic yoga, or fire dancing for a crowd.


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